Art is hard to write about, and maybe that's why most artists refrain from it. It is what it is, they say, just look at the picture and make up your own mind as to what it means. Or they say don't even try to figure it out, just take it in and enjoy. It's not meant to be understood. But that kind of bothers me.
One reason is that this idea of an impenetrable mystery turns art into some sort of magic. Perhaps that's what makes many people think artists create somehow "magically", without much reasoning or effort. Or that it's nice but it doesn't have a practical purpose or value in the modern world.
Another reason is that my motivation for making art is not just because I see something wonderful, but because I wonder about things and I want to understand them. Especially things that challenge my sense of logic. Here, in this card from the Ingenious Animal Oracle I'm exploring in particular the conflict between fantasy and reality or between the irrational and logical.
Like in Magritte's painting below, Happy Donor, the line between decor and nature is blurred, it's not clear which is which. We also don't know what world the animal characters inhabit. Or if they're aware of the costume they're wearing or what is the real character behind the other's disguise. The white rabbit is not pulled out of a hat but instead holds the power of the magic wand. Well, seemingly. The moon smiling above might have something to do with it.
Certain symbols in this story refer to narratives from popular culture: the rabbit, hat and Cheshire cat smile are a nod to Alice in Wonderland, and more indirectly, the raccoon alludes to the Zorro-like disguise in the French film Amelie. The fir trees even have a similar shape to her garden gnome (although that was not intentional). Both stories center around imagination and the search for answers beyond the realm of reality, into an inner world much like the one depicted in Magritte's painting.
If in the first card magic and mystery took over reality the opposite card below flips the camera on the scene by 180 degrees. On this side reality takes over mystery and the rigs in the magic are visible. The raccoon has swapped his mask for glasses, he's holding antlers rather than pretending his magic wand made the bunny into a deer or mythical jackalope. Nature has been replaced by order- a floor with a checkerboard pattern- and the Cheshire cat, now fully visible, appears to reach for the raccoon and hare like pieces on a chess board.
In the first card the characters are ambiguous and live in a world that's black and white while in the second card the characters are black and white against a paradoxical decor. Like the Yin-Yang that always contain a little bit of the opposite, nothing here is purely black and white or pure illusions. And that seems to be true in the West too. We want the illusions of our stories to follow a certain logic, and on the other hand following the process of logic blindly can sometimes lead to illusory conclusions.
In the first card the symbolism of the raccoon centers around the concept of a mask, which is "the face imagination gives a god", according to The Book of Symbols by Taschen. In a psychological sense, that face produced by the imagination would be a projection coming from the unconscious and the god would be an archetype (pattern of though, behavior, or recurring motif) that created the projection.
Magritte expresses this very well in his painting The Son of Man, shown below. He's put an apple, symbol of knowledge, like a mask right in front of the face of an impersonal man (perhaps symbolizing humanity) and that apple is green, which could mean that Man's knowledge is unripe. The stormy sky in the background and the brick wall both suggest a non communication between Man and his environment. The title too points to the same idea of alienation from nature, the unconscious, or if you will, God - psychologically, the archetype of the Self or one's true nature.
Exploring these Magritte paintings got me to take a fresh look at the symbolism in my own work and try to understand where maybe something similar might be going on. In the Elephant in the Room illustration below the tip of the trunk covers one of the women's eyes as if it was the mask of a raccoon. It happened by accident (I ran out of room on the page while sketching) and making it see through also happened unexpectedly while working in Photoshop.
Bringing the elephant and the big plants in the scene was a nod to Henri Rousseau, another one of my favorite painters, but the idea was to do the reverse of what he does - bring the jungle to the room rather than the room in the jungle. After studying Jung for a several months it seems to me that the nude woman reclining on a sofa in the middle of the jungle in Rousseau's painting The Dream could be interpreted psychologically as the anima, or feminine aspects of a male’s psyche. The rich jungle environment also fits well with the psychological character of the anima, here positive: beautiful, receptive, inspiring, loving, intuitive.
Since my illustration is a reverse Rousseau, it seems to me now that the elephant in the room can be interpreted as the animus, or male aspects of a female’s psyche. Like in Rousseau's painting the environment, here a room, fits well with the psychological character of the animus: the space is organized and intellectual- there are shelves with books, art, and Ikea-type containers- plus a conversation is going on. And similarly to the different animus stages, an elephant can be seen as strong physically, intelligent, and wise.
The fact that the elephant is transparent allows to see or access what's on the shelves- the knowledge symbolized by the books, and the vase which can be a container for transformation. Now I'm beginning to think the trunk of the elephant instead of blinding the woman could also be giving her the ability to see what's invisible. Taschen says a masks has a dual nature, that it looks both in and out. So perhaps the trunk can both blind and reveal, and depending on whether the animus is integrated or not the elephant gives the woman raccoon eyes or glasses.
All the images and paintings in this post would seem at first glance to be pure illusions but behind the mask of imagination it turns out they're also quite logical!